Mz Free and Rae One.
Last week in the heart of the record-breaking storm that drenched California, I drove to downtown Los Angeles for an in-depth interview with Rae One. Rae is the owner of the popular Black-owned streetwear brand Grind Until U Die. His clothes have been spotted on some of the most popular social media stars, like rapper and reality TV star Blueface.
The brand carries sweaters, sweats, and tote bags but is most known for its signature trucker hats. The hats come in all different colors and styles, leaving you with endless options to choose from.
Rae is a successful entrepreneur now, but his journey began long before he ever produced an article of clothing.
Rae grew up around the Jefferson Park neighborhood in the South Los Angeles area in a big, close-knit, middle-class Belizean household. He lived with his mother and stepfather until they eventually split up. His stepfather, a keyboardist for a lot of big musical artists, encouraged Rae’s artistic side when he was very young.
Rae remembers moving often during his childhood. “I moved from Jefferson Park to the Jungles [Baldwin Village],” he says. “Stayed in the Jungles for a bit, went to Mid-City … left from there and moved to Hawthorne, then came back. I was all around the city.”
Rae grew up among a lot of different local gang neighborhoods, but never got involved with the gang politics of the LA streets. “My situation was special. Growing up, the things that I did always had to do with creativity,” he explains. “So growing up around these gang members, they were like nah, we gone keep him away. There was, I guess, something special about me, and they respected my family.”
Rae respected where and who he grew up around, but took his own route once he got introduced to the art of graffiti, or tagging. “As you grow older the people you’re surrounded by, of course some of that shit is going to rub off on you. I got into graffiti and tag banging came along with graffiti. What a lot of people don’t know is, a lot of these n**as banging started off as taggers,” he explains.
At age 10, Rae started to rebel and spent a lot of time outside with the kids on the block. “I was the most mischievous, bad-ass kid. My grandmother stayed in the MVPs [Most Valuable Pimps gang neighborhood]. On our block it was all my cousins, and then at the end of the block, there was a foster home, and it just was a bunch of bad-ass kids. We use to always go down there and fuck with them.”
Rae says he always treated the foster kids with respect, and they did the same. “Just being accepted, they fucked with me, they was always like that’s cooley. I don’t know what it was, I guess it’s just my DNA, how I’m coded, I just got accepted everywhere.”
Rae says he began acting up when he became a teenager. “I shot my first BB gun fucking with them when I was 13. I got my first tattoo when I was 13. Yeah, we was terrorizing stuff when we was little.” Rae continued to hang out on the block with the other kids and ended up getting a reality check very quickly. “I caught my first case as a kid when I was 13. I think I got caught with some weed or something,” he says. “Went to court at Eastlake [Juvenile Court], from there it was just a gap. Moving into high school days, that’s when I really became a graffiti crew [member]that’s when I really just started getting in trouble.”
Rae started ditching school with his friends, and eventually lost the focus and drive to attend class. “I would be like, ‘Imma miss this week, then Imma start back next week.’ So then it turned into a month, then it turned into, ‘Fuck it, Imma try back next year.’ Then I completely said, ‘Fuck school.’”
Rae left school in the ninth grade. He says that experience taught him about who he was as a person. “The school system just wasn’t for me. And I was more so of a creative as opposed to being an academic,” he explains. “I was always inquisitive, always questioned, always did research. That was something that was naturally in me, then I said, ‘Imma take on full-fledged creativity.’ That was something that spoke to me.”
He continued to hustle, but hanging out on the block can land you in the wrong situations. In 2009, at the age of 29, Rae got shot. “I was outside of a party, outside of a liquor store. And a car drove by, shot up like nine times and I got hit once.” That inspired him to head back to the classroom. “Right after I got shot, I went to school for graphic design, like fuck it, I gotta turn my life around, a ni**a gone end up dead out here.”
Rae continued to explore his creative side through drawing and doing graphic design. In 2013, he created his first streetwear brand, Guud Lukin. “Between me getting shot and [paying] child support, it’s what kinda led me to starting the clothing brand,” Rae recalls. “Cuz I was working these … jobs and I would get a check. I took that check and I invested into the clothing brand shit.”
In 2016, Rae decided it was time to rebrand. “It wasn’t connecting with the people. When shit isn’t working for your brand, it’s mainly in your design,” he says.
The slogan ”Grind Until U Die” was created in 2021. The acronym GUUD also has a second meaning: “God Uses Us Differently.” Rae says he always had those two meanings in mind. He just wasn’t sure what the logo would look like.
“I didn’t have no rule about this. I didn’t know, ‘Give it about a year and things gone change.’ But, my whole thing was quality. Anything that I was designing gotta look dope — that’s what I was basically shooting after,” he tells me. Rae had invested in a hat press machine when he started his company, but never spent much time with it. At that point, he says he was mostly doing samples. Occasionally he would run into Desto Dubb, the entrepreneur behind the That’s An Awful Lot of Cough Syrup brand, when picking up his samples. Desto Dubb is also a Black business owner and designer from LA and has been very successful over the years. His brand has two storefronts: one on Melrose and one in downtown Los Angeles.
Once the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, Rae started to use the machine and began selling printed trucker hats. “At the time I was watching Desto Dubb a lot. At the time he was running the fashion shit. He’s on Melrose trapping it out,” Rae remembers. “That following year I was like, ‘I’m finna get on my shit.’”
He continued to produce, promote, and sell his hats. Eventually, Rae set up a vending booth on Melrose. “I said, ‘Fuck it.’ I went to buy a table, and I went to buy a chair. And there was a couple people out there selling other people’s brands, so I gave them like 10 hats. The shit just started selling,” he says. Once the hats sold out, he restocked them and began to turn a profit.
Rae continued to hustle and sell, but it wasn’t until he connected with the business owner that inspired him — Desto Dubb — that things changed drastically.
“I’m trappin’ on Melrose, he gotta store on Melrose. I saw he was at his store, I jumped on the opportunity: I gave him tons of hats. He posted the hat on his Instagram story and [in] Less than five minutes I got a call from a guy in Miami, and [his store] bought all 50 hats I had on my table,” Rae says. The store, called Sneaker Buyers, now carries the signature “Grind Until U Die” trucker hat. “That’s when I understood how powerful social media was and the person behind it. I gotta shout Dubb out man, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in Miami right now. And I got another store out there that carries it too. And it’s all based off that one situation, and that was a whole year ago … Desto Dubb is a good ni**a, cuz he don’t got no ego. He’s gonna showcase other brands on his page and put other ni**as on.”
Rae now has trucker hats in several different stores around the world. But he continues to grind to make sure the brand stays relevant. Over the years, LA streetwear has branched into the mainstream fashion market, giving a platform to designers that have been historically overlooked. “We run this shit, we really run this shit and we got the power,” Rae says. “High fashion has now stepped down to streetwear, they come to us for reference, we got this shit, we the future.”